All posts by Gabriel Wrobel

My primary research specialty is bioarchaeology, which concerns the analysis and interpretation of skeletal remains from archaeological contexts.  I have conducted most of my research at Maya sites in Belize, where I am currently the director of the Central Belize Archaeological Survey project.  Located in the Caves Branch and Roaring Creek river valleys in west-central Belize, this project focuses on a variety of sites, including ritual rockshelters and caves, several large urban ceremonial centers, and surrounding settlement zones.  The excavations and analyses conducted so far show that ancient Maya communities used the cave sites for various ceremonial and mortuary purposes over a span of approximately 2000 years. The changes over time in the rituals performed at the rural rockshelters and caves closely parallel sociopolitical transitions identified at the monumental centers we have investigated within our research area, as well as at other sites found throughout the rest of the Maya region. For this reason, the sites in central Belize are important in characterizing the effects of large-scale sociopolitical transformations on ancient Maya communities. The data derived from small rural agrarian contexts continue to provide a different perspective than that of the larger urban centers at which most archaeological investigations are focused.My recent work focuses on shape analysis using 3D photogrammetric models. I am working on two projects, one focused on the ancient Maya and the other on the peopling of Papua New Guinea.

The Central Belize Archaeological Survey

CBAS is a research program focusing on the rich cultural history of Maya populations who once inhabited the Caves Branch River and Roaring Creek Valleys and the surrounding uplands. Located approximately 20 miles southeast of the city of Belmopan (Belize’s capital) in Central Belize, the lush river valleys are framed by jungle growing on the steep karst foothills of the Maya mountains. The strongest evidence of early human activity in the area dates to the Middle-Late Preclassic periods (around 300 BC) and is in the form of ritual offerings found in the many caves riddling the limestone cliffs. Our recent work in the Caves Branch Rockshelter uncovered an Archaic spearpoint dating to 2500 – 1900 BC, which is the first evidence that the arrival of humans in the valley may have been even earlier. Rituals were performed in many of the caves in the area through the Preclassic and Classic periods, though at present there is little other evidence of settlement until, quite suddenly, during the Middle Classic period (around AD 500) the monumental centers of Yaxbe, Deep Valley, and Tipan Chen Uitz were built, complete with elite residential compounds and large ceremonial structures around open public plazas. Surveys of the surrounding countryside show increased settlement at this time as well as the integration of multiple sites – Tipan, Yaxbe, and Cahal Uitz Na – via a network of ancient roads (sacbeob). But, soon after this florescence, the area was abandoned. By the end of the Classic period (AD 900), there is a startling absence of activity in these centers, in the countryside, and in the caves. In the summer of 2015, the CBAS project will return to Central Belize to continue its ongoing investigations at the many cave and surface sites.